Mumia Update

by Lindy Davies

Longtime HGI members will recall seeing articles, from time to time, by the celebrated death-row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal in this magazine. The HGI’s website carried the words “Justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal” from its inception in 1995 until last year. The link was removed after those in attendance at our membership meeting in Scranton voted to remove it. The general feeling was that the Henry George Institute, as an organization, should not promote individual causes (and particularly not ones as controversial as this).

Our homepage link, however, explained why Abu-Jamal’s cause had special resonance for us: having studied political economy with the HGI in the 1990s, he went on to serve as a volunteer teacher, working with 47 students. Later he complied with a request to voice his support for LVT in Philadelphia (adding, however, that he doubted his endorsement would benefit the cause). In his book All Things Censored, he described disciplinary action he got for having an unauthorized (and, indeed, unpaid) occupation as an HGI teacher.

Recently some of our readers have asked for an update. In some ways, there’s little to report — and yet in other ways there’s a great deal. Mumia has been on death row for 27 years. The most substantive change in his legal status in all that time has happened, oddly, just this month: a Federal Appeals Court has struck down his death sentence. This news is less good than it sounds; if the Philadelphia D.A.’s office doesn’t choose to keep pushing for the death sentence, Mumia’s sentence will automatically revert to life without parole. If, however, the D.A. takes the bait, and allows a new sentencing hearing in order to push for the death penalty, then Mumia’s lead counsel, Robert Bryan, intends to introduce new evidence of his client’s innocence.

Meanwhile, Mumia Abu-Jamal has created a substantial body of work. Ironically, when he was an aspiring journalist in Philadelphia before his arrest and convction, he was known as “the voice of the voiceless.” That is truer now than ever, for the United States’s over two million people currently in prison are very seldom heard from. He stopped his HGI teaching activities in favor of competing a master’s degree, and his latest two books are excellent. Faith of Our Fathers : An Examination of the Spiritual Life of African and African-American People has not been widely marketed, and has a high, “scholarly” price tag, but it deserves a new edition, because it makes accessible the black liberationist spiritual tradition in a way that could help to heal many of America’s chronic suspicions and aversions. Likewise, although most of the people who could truly learn from it will most likely avoid it like plague, his We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party makes radicalism understandable, placing the feared, misunderstood Black Panthers in the context of an idealistic young life. Also, it makes the important contribution of extolling, and explaining, the vital role of the women members of the Black Panthers.

Additionally, of course, Mumia Abu-Jamal continues sending out his topical commentaries, terse op-eds on a wide range of issues, much to the chagrin of his many detractors. Many Georgists have, of course, set pen to paper on “the housing bubble” — but none, to my mind, has matched the immediacy and clarity of the example that follows.

The Death of the Pursuit of a Dream: A House

The letter came from someone who I didn’t know.

It was short, to-the-point, and shocking.

A young wife and mother was at her wit’s end, because she was about to lose her family’s beloved home.

It surprised me, and stunned me.

I’ve been reading about the problem in several papers, but here it was.

The prospect filled this young woman with dread and terror.

Does the law exist for the purpose of furthering the ambitions of those who have sworn to uphold the law, or is it seriously to be considered as a moral, unifying force, the health and strength of a nation? The trouble with [such] questions, of course, is that they sound rhetorical, and have the effect of irritating the reader, who does not wish to be told that the administration of justice in this country is a wicked farce. Well, if one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, or the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected — those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most! — and listens to their testimony. Ask any Mexican, any Puerto Rican, any black man, any poor person — ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it. It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have. — James Baldwin, No Name in the Street

I wondered how many others were joining her in this journey into possible homelessness, and my research uncovered a rising number, all across the nation.

From San Francisco, to Brooklyn: from Philadelphia, to Buffalo; in cities on both coasts and in places in between, we are seeing the loss of homes by working families, many of whom have been duped into acquiring, not homes, but the sub prime loans that made home-buying possible.

Many of these loans were made with what’s called adjustable rate mortgages (or ARM’s).

ARM’s suckered poor folks to buy into them, with ‘teaser’ rates meant to attract them, but as the acronym suggests, the rates get adjusted, and almost always upwards. Before long, people began paying 50% more than they paid six months earlier, only to be out-priced, and then — boom! —

a few missed mortgage payments, and foreclosure is sure to follow.

With this financial slight-of-hand, people are tossed out of their homes, and the properties?

They’re just flipped again, again — and again.

For bankers, builders and speculators, it was the next best thing to free money.

It was great!

Well, it was great for everybody except working folks, ho often lost homes that they’ve dreamed of owning.

If the corporate media is to be believed, average people were simply too stupid to know that they couldn’t afford to buy a house.

But that was the very foundation of the sub prime lending industry.

Several years ago, I remember ads in the Black press, advising folks of the ease with which to buy a house these days.

Few people took into account how ARMs actually worked.

In the last six months, over fifty sub-prime lending companies have gone out of business.

One of the biggest, New Century Financial, filed for bankruptcy protection in April, 2007.

But, having made their mint, their bankruptcies ain’t like yours (If you can get ’em, after the US Congress made it harder, that is).

New Century sold their stock before the shortfall, netting over $40 million in profits.

So, owners have one fate; working folks, with few assets, have another.

Once again, a capitalist bubble has burst, with one bunch taking the goodies, and the other taking the proverbial hole in the center of the doughnut — (nothing).

I thought of that woman’s pain; her feelings of loss, dread, and horror.

Magnified over tens of thousands, and then millions of people, we begin to see the scope of this problem that threatens to scuttle the hopes and dreams of (at least) a generation.

— Mumia Abu-Jamal, 9/18/07

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